Senior HSE officers get €33,000 cars for work
Ambulance managers given new vehicles to work nine-to-five hours
THE HSE has been accused of "incredible extravagance" after it emerged that dozens of senior ambulance managers were bought company cars to drive to and from work.
The revelation comes amid worsening ambulance response times, according to official HSE reports -- and news that 200 new recruits hired within the past 18 months are not being deployed properly due to budget restrictions, with many being used for office administrative work.
Senior ambulance officers across the country have been provided with State-funded cars -- Hyundai Sante Fes and Ford Mondeos, which cost between €25,000 and €33,000 brand new -- but such staff do not work out of hours, except in "very exceptional circumstances".
Officers are required to use the vehicles as part of their contract of employment -- but it has emerged that this is only during normal office hours.
The majority work Monday to Friday, nine to five, depending on the region they are in -- but most, if not all, do not work at night or at weekends because there is "no provision for an on-call system".
It has also emerged that many of the cars are fitted with satellite navigation equipment, while many of the country's frontline ambulances are making do with "out-dated ordinance survey maps".
According to an official HSE report, ambulance response times fell in the last six months of 2009, where just 24 per cent of call-outs were responded to within the standard of eight minutes.
This compared with 29 per cent the previous July. Irish response times compare poorly to the UK, where 75 per cent are responded to within eight minutes.
Fine Gael's spokesman on waste in the public sector, Brian Hayes, said this represents an "incredible profligacy we can no longer afford".
Mr Hayes said: "Given that 200 new recruits were brought in and are not being used properly and the standard of service to the public is worsening, such stories of excess are incredible. We can no longer afford such extravagance."
Responding to our queries, a HSE spokeswoman said the cars are provided as part of the officers' terms of contract. She said that it would be "unacceptable" for them to use their own cars for their work.
"Officers are required to be available to respond to serious and untoward incidents during duty hours.
"It would be unacceptable to the HSE and the gardai for officers to do so in their personally owned vehicles," the spokeswoman added.
"Various measures are in place around the country regarding out-of-hours arrangements. Officers respond, on a goodwill basis, out of hours where no arrangements exist," she continued.
According to the spokeswoman, the purchase of vehicles is based on an assessment of need, available budget, planned use (for example, to move trailers or off-road capability or to carry equipment) and are purchased in compliance with HSE and public procurement policy.
The HSE said it makes significant annual savings by not paying travel expenses for officers using personally owned cars and all vehicles purchased are basic models only, similar to the gardai and other emergency service vehicles.